Reporter Investigates Nursing Homes Which Evict Lesser-Paying Residents

According to an investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal, nursing homes across the country are forcing out frail and ill residents. While federal law permits nursing-home evictions in some circumstances, state officials and patient advocates say facilities often go too far, seeking to evict those who are merely inconvenient or too costly. Residents with dementia or demanding families are among the most vulnerable, particularly if they depend on Medicaid to pay their bills, the officials and advocates say.

Federal and state law gives nursing-home residents strong protections against eviction -- at least on paper. But these protections don't apply to residents in assisted-living facilities. And residents dependent on Medicaid are particularly vulnerable to eviction, state officials and resident-advocates say.

In recent years, assisted-living facilities have sprung up as alternatives for those who don't quite require nursing-home care but want or need assistance with things like taking medications or bathing and dressing. Each state regulates the industry differently, so eviction policies vary. But many states simply require facilities to give four- to six-weeks' notice, with no appeal guaranteed.

No national figures on assisted-living evictions exist, but discharge-related complaints recorded by the federal Administration on Aging more than doubled in the decade before 2006, rising 177% -- nearly twice the growth for complaints overall. Some states, including New Jersey and Washington, are pursuing assisted-living companies accused of forcing out Medicaid residents.

Those on Medicaid bring facilities as little as half what they can get from residents who pay out of pocket, with private health insurance or through Medicare, the federal-state health program for the elderly.

No one counts evictions nationwide. But formal complaints about nursing-home discharge practices have doubled over a decade, to 8,500 nationally in 2006, making it the second-biggest category tracked by the federal Administration on Aging, trailing only complaints about unanswered calls for assistance.

And evictions may be even more widespread, since some eviction attempts are resolved without formal complaints. Residents may not know they can appeal or may be too ill to do so or fear retribution. "It's really hard to know how many folks were simply told, 'We think you need to find another place for your mother,' " says the long-term-care policy director with an advocacy group.

The nursing-home industry argues that evictions are uncommon, and justified when they occur. An attorney for nursing homes says most evictions involve dangerous or hard-to-care-for residents that the facilities aren't equipped to handle, or residents who "just don't pay."

Federal law -- enforced by the states -- says residents can be discharged involuntarily for just six reasons: if they are well enough to go home; need care only available elsewhere; endanger the health of others; endanger the safety of others; fail to pay their bills; or if a facility closes its doors. Even so, nursing homes must give residents at least 30 days' notice, explain their appeal rights, and put together a plan to make sure the move doesn't harm them.

But they don't always follow the rules. In a recent review of admission agreements at Missouri nursing homes, nearly one in five granted itself the right to evict residents without cause, the National Senior Citizens Law Center found. Almost half the agreements authorized eviction for residents who become "uncooperative and unmanageable," "unduly noisy," "objectionably untidy" or for other reasons not permitted under federal law.

Nursing homes rarely roll evicted residents out to the curb. Instead, they transfer them to another nursing home or send them to a hospital or psychiatric facility for treatment and observation, and then refuse to take them back, a practice hospital social-workers sometimes call "nursing-home dumps."

Even an orderly eviction can carry grave risks for the old and ill. Studies suggest "transfer trauma," or relocation-stress syndrome, can spur depression and weight loss and increase the risk of falls.

"Transfer trauma kills elderly, frail people," says a long-term-care ombudsman for more than 25 years. After a small nursing home in her state closed suddenly last fall, 10 of the 16 relocated residents were dead by early March, she says. "People get lost, people don't know which side of the bed to get out of, or where the bathroom is."

Roughly two-thirds of those who remain in a nursing home 90 days or longer depend on Medicaid, having exhausted their own savings or other benefits. But nursing-homes are increasingly concentrating on patients coming off hospital stays and therefore eligible for Medicare benefits or private insurance, says one health-care analyst. "That's what they're all doing right now, is building up these recovery-rehab units."

For the complete investigative report, read the story.

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Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia.

 

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